Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 24, 2001
What are the O Antiphons?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
Each year as I come to the "O Antiphons," I wonder about their significance. Can you explain them for me?
These great antiphons are an ancient Advent prayer and are recited with Mary's Magnificat in the Church's evening prayer the last week before Christmas. They are perhaps most familiar to us in the hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel which we hear sung during Advent.
As we prepare for the celebration of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, we also prepare for the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of time. The interval between these two periods in which we live our lives is filled with trust and hope, with longing and gratitude but also with struggles and sorrows, with failures and successes.
The O Antiphons call upon Jesus under different titles to come into our lives and transform them. We can spend each day reflecting on the meaning of the one for that day. Just what does each convey?
First, on Dec. 17, we call on Jesus, "O Divine Wisdom," to help us to exercise wisdom on our way to salvation, which is our work here on earth. We can reflect on wisdom in the Old Testament books of Proverbs and Sirach. We can also look at our own lives to see where we need the gift of wisdom.
On Dec. 18, we call on Jesus "O Lord" to set us free. From what do we need to be set free? On an earthly level, we remember that lords were heads of large land holdings and of the peasants who were totally committed to their service.
So, by calling Jesus Lord, we are giving our lives totally and freely to him. We need to reflect on the meaning of freedom and commitment for us today.
On Dec. 19, we pray "O Flower of Jesse's stem." Jesse was the father of King David and was the root of the line from which Jesus descended. We remember that this line had some flawed people in it but is the one from which Jesus descended.
Jesus has been given as a sign of hope for all peoples. Death was not the final word for him; he triumphed in resurrection and glory. So we ask Jesus always to grace us with faith and hope so we can triumph in and with him.
On Dec. 20, we call Jesus "O Key of David." We know what a key does for us and how helpless we become when we lose a key. We ask ourselves how Jesus is a key in our work and in our family life; what doors he opens for us.
Are there doors of fear and hesitation that prevent us from reaching out to others? Or are there doors of lack of self-confidence and trust in God when we are called upon to something different? Here we have a good opportunity to reflect on how Jesus wants to be a key for us.
"O Radiant Dawn" on Dec. 21, brings us back to nature and the way we feel when we wake up early in the summer and see the sky lit up so beautifully.
What are the dawns in our lives that bring a new day after the darkness of struggles or failures, after illness or despair? Who is the author of these dawns? Lots of room for reflection.
"O King of All Nations, the only joy of every human heart" on Dec. 22 brings us to reflect on the meaning of kingship for Jesus who said he would give us a peace which the world cannot give.
Let us look at the public life of Jesus and how he brought peace to people by touching, healing, forgiving. How we, too, long for peace in this war torn world of ours and in our lives. Let us pray that the kind of peace Jesus gives will encompass our world this Christmas.
The last antiphon on Dec. 23, "O Emmanuel," sums up all the others for Emmanuel means God with us. If God is with us, everything will be righted and we will live in God's peace and joy. Let us look at how God is with us as we carry on in our homes and workplaces.
How aware are we of God's presence and God's desire to carry our burdens for us? God is waiting to come in. "I stand at the door and knock," Jesus says.
These "O Antiphons" provide plenty of food for reflection for each day of the week before Christmas. Let us make use of and be grateful for the gifts the Church provides in its official prayer. As we pray and reflect on these beautiful words, we will find at Christmas that God has come anew into our lives and our hearts.